At Risk of Rising Seas, Pacific Nations Demand Global Climate Action

CAIRNS, Australia, August 7, 2009 (ENS)

With rising sea levels encircling Pacific Island nations, heads of state and government across the Pacific Thursday adopted a climate change declaration advocating a strong global agreement to limit warming to two degrees Celsius or less.

At the Pacific Leaders Forum in Cairns, the officials said that with just 122 days to go before the United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen, "the international community is not on track to achieve the outcome we need unless we see a renewed mandate across all participating nations."

The Pacific Leaders' declaration calls on states to ensure that global emissions peak no later than 2020 and to reduce global emissions by at least 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. These are the benchmarks adopted by the G8 industrial democracies in July.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who takes the rotating chair of the Forum this year, told his fellow government leaders, "The nations of the Pacific are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and Pacific island nations are among the least responsible for the causes of climate change. But they will bear the brunt of its impact the most. We must all act together to meet this challenge."

Some villagers in the Pacific island nation of Kiribati [say Ki-ri-bas] already have been forced from their homes by rising sea levels, and officials warn that relocation could spark conflict due to traditional land rights. 
In an effort to quell potential climate change-driven conflicts before they erupt, the UNDP is helping to set up a new program in the Pacific region in partnership with other organizations in the area.

The "Interface between Climate Change, Disasters and Potential for Conflict in the Pacific" initiative seeks to boost the ability of national and regional groups to prevent and manage violent conflicts triggered by global warming.

Ajay Chhibber, director of the Asia and the Pacific Regional Bureau of the UN Development Programme warned that during the current financial turmoil, global warming could potentially reverse "hard-won development gains in the region, which could compromise our collective ability to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and plans for a prosperous, peaceful and secure region."

The Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Stephen Smith and the Minister for Climate Change and Water Penny Wong today announced funding priorities to assist Pacific Island countries to meet the immediate challenges of climate change.